“I just don’t know how you can do it. I just don’t think I could live with someone else in my house. What’s it like really like having a live-in maid?”
I had this conversation about 6 years ago with a friend when I was new expat to the Middle East and its endearing ways. My friend worked full-time and had two little girls, the same age as my daughter, and lived two floors down in our apartment block. She had hired a maid through an agency to live in with them to collect the girls from school, look after them in the afternoon, get them to various activities, cook the meals and keep the apartment clean. Her name was, and probably still is, Betty. And she was, and probably still is, gorgeous and amazing.
Betty’s story is pretty common. Coming from an African country, she was educated to a high level, had worked in customer service, but couldn’t find work that paid well enough to succeed. She and her husband moved to the Middle East and he took up a job as a driver, and she took the job as a maid. She had worked for a few different families before my friend, and spoke fluent English and Arabic (which really puts my stumbling Arabic to shame). She lived-in in the apartment during the week and went to stay with her husband from Thursday evening to Saturday evening, when she would return and start her routine with the family again.
When I first met Betty, she had a 6-month-old son. He was in Africa, living with her parents. She got to see him once a year for 4 weeks at a time for her annual leave.
That, I thought, is terribly sad.
But, as she told me, he had a better life and more opportunity for the future as they could afford to send more money home than they could working there, and he was being raised by family, and that’s just how it was.
I personally couldn’t relate to this at the time as I couldn’t imagine living without my baby, but I could see her point, and I was grateful to be me and not to have to make that sacrifice.
So, what was it like to live with someone in your house who cleaned up after you?
Well as my friend said “We had no clue what to expect and wondered what we would need to do to train her. In the end we didn’t need to train Betty, Betty trained us.”
As someone familiar with living with a family, Betty worked around everyone, made sure she was in the background, but made everything simple and easy for them. She was so good at what she did, you never knew there was someone there. She was brilliant with the kids; her food was delicious and the house was sparkling clean. She came to work for me just to clean once a week, and seriously, you could eat off the floor when she’d finished. When my daughter went to play with the girls, she would look after her too. I paid her as it gave me much needed time to work (I was working from home), and my daughter loved her.
Betty left my friend when she got a job in a lingerie department of an exclusive department store. I had helped her write her CV, and realised then how much her skills had been underutilised. My daughter, the girls and I would visit her to say hello regularly. She had become that much of a big part of our lives.
Moving on 6 years, I’m about to lose my own live-in help. She’s pregnant with her first child and is going home to her new house (bought with 9 years of serious saving), and she’s about to leave a big hole in our lives.
I never thought I could live with a maid. Now I don’t know if I can live without one.
Like Betty, R trained us from day one. She is amazing. Other than seeing her in the morning doing our breakfast dishes, and hearing the vacuum, I wouldn’t know she’s here most of the time. She’s my little fairy who tidies up around us, removes the cat fur from our clothes, entertains the dog when we’re out, deals with delivery and maintenance men. She even irons my underpants and puts them neatly (in colour-coded order) in my drawer.
We’ve celebrated her birthdays, her husband’s birthdays, Christmas, Buddha’s birthday, family gatherings, Eid, Easter, Halloween, Diwali, and much more with her. I’ve taken her to IKEA for the first time (don’t laugh), to the beach, to a resort, shopping (and not to work or push the trolley, although she likes to do that anyway). We’ve discussed cultures, languages, animals, family, being a female, babies, teenagers, and the best cleaning materials. R is family.
It can be very disturbing to hear stories of maids who are mistreated, or maids stealing or mistreating children and animals, but I hope they are few and far between. Because giving a job, and some security, and a platform to better opportunities to someone like Betty or R is what has justified having a maid for me.
I will be very sad when R leaves us.
This blog is not should you get a maid or not, but what it’s like to have someone else live in your house, see you everyday without your makeup, see your least attractive habits, and still clean up after you regardless.
I love it, and am now on the hunt for another R. Or a Betty if I can find one.
What are your thoughts? Do you have a maid? What do you do if you don’t?
Love, Kat xxx
(Photo: The gorgeous Betty in her new role)